Your baby’s colds

Your baby is likely to catch a few colds in the first year. So what medicine can you give and how can you help your baby to feel better?

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It’s absolutely normal for your baby to catch a cold, especially during their first year of life when they aren’t immune to the many different cold viruses. Gradually your baby will build up their immune system and get fewer colds. 

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How does your baby catch a cold?

A common cold is the infection of the mouth, throat and nose and there are many different viruses, which can cause the infection.

Colds are contagious, so if your baby is around anyone who sneezes or coughs, they may catch the virus. The infection can also be transmitted through direct and indirect contact, so make sure you always wash your hands thoroughly when looking after your baby.

What symptoms will your baby have with a cold?

If your baby has a common cold they may have some of the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Reddened eyes
  • Cough
  • High temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness

What medicine can you give your baby to treat a cold?

If your baby is under 3 months old, visit your doctor for advice on what medication to give them.

When your baby is over 3 months old, they’re able to have baby paracetamol or baby ibuprofen, but make sure you read the packet first. Always check with your doctor if you’re ever worried. Both of these are available to buy from your local pharmacist.

Avoid any over-the-counter cold or cough remedies that aren’t suitable for children under 6.

Should you take your baby to your doctor?

If your baby is over 3 months and has a common cold, there’s no need to take them to your doctor. However if your baby is under 3 months and has a cold, take them to your doctor for advice.

“If your baby has a temperature it’s best to take them to the doctor’s, regardless of their age. If your baby is over 3 months old then you can try baby paracetamol, but if their high temperature doesn’t respond to this then go and see your doctor,” says former NHS midwife and current independent midwife, Karina Dyer, from Infant Affinity.

Can your baby’s cold lead to other illnesses?

Common colds can also turn into ear infections. If you notice your baby rub his or her ears or they have red ears, go and see your doctor to check it out. Your doctor will be able to prescribe something to clear up the infection.

If your baby sounds breathless and has a high temperature with their cough and cold, they may have a chest infection. See your doctor, as he or she will be able to tell you whether a virus or bacteria caused your baby’s chest infection and prescribe the correct medication.

“With a new baby an infection can start off really quickly, then before you know it they have a chest infection, so you need to be careful. See the doctor if you are worried,” says midwife Karina. 

Your baby’s cold may also turn into bronchiolitis, which is common for young babies. Bronchiolitis is an infection of the breathing tubes and the symptoms are similar to those of a common cold but your baby may have difficulty breathing. One-third of babies in the UK develop bronchiolitis in their first year of life, according to the NHS. Some babies, usually those born prematurely or born with a heart or lung condition, have to be treated in hospital.

Take your baby straight to hospital if you think he or she is struggling to breathe. You should also see your doctor straightaway if your baby has a productive cough (where he or she is bringing up mucus), is wheezing when they cough or is breathing faster than usual.

What else can you do to ease your baby’s discomfort?

Midwife Karina suggests you try steam inhalation, where you sit with your baby in the bathroom and turn on the hot shower. Close all doors and windows and allow your baby to breathe in the steam, as this will help clear the airways.

Remember that your baby won’t be able to blow his or her own nose, so use a clean soft cloth to remove as much of the mucus as you can, without prodding or poking.

“Using too many tissues can make your baby’s nose sore, so a soft cloth is better,” explains midwife Karina.

If your baby has a blocked nose they may be finding it hard to feed as it’s difficult to suck. It’s important not to let your baby dehydrate, so feed them little and often when they have a cold.

“If you’re breastfeeding, offer your baby extra feed. Even if they only have two or three sucks each time, offer them some more in half hour. If you’re bottlefeeding, offer them water as well as milk in their bottle,” says midwife Karina.

Can you stop your baby from catching a cold?

The most important thing you can do is to keep a strict hygiene routine. Wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap as often as you can when looking after your baby, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

If you have a cold, make sure you don’t sneeze around your baby. Your baby is more likely to catch your cold because of their lowered immune system.

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Keeping your baby out of smoky atmospheres helps too.

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